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Collier County to Receive Braves Spring-Training Pitch

Atlanta Braves logoCollier County commissioners will get their first look at a proposed $135-million spring-training complex for the Atlanta Braves, as a deal negotiated by a private investment firm will be made public for the first time.

Collier County is at the southern part of the Gulf Coast, encompassing Naples. A new spring-training complex for the Braves would bring a fourth team in the greater Fort Myers/Naples area, with the Braves joining the Boston Red Sox, Minnesota Twins and Tampa Bay Rays.

The deal, negotiated by Gary Price of Fifth Avenue Advisors in Naples, calls for a new spring-training complex at Collier Boulevard near Interstate 75. The 160-acre site is controlled by a developer and currently zoned residential. This isn’t the first time Price and the developer have made a run at spring training: they’re the ones who pitched the Chicago Cubs on a move back to the Grapefruit League before the team settled on a new Mesa complex.

The commissioners will hear a proposal to spend up to $70 million on a new complex, with the Braves contribution not yet made specific. But there are plenty of shortfalls. The source of public funds hasn’t been specified. The 160-acre site is in a residential area (surrounded with plenty of gated communities), which means a supermajority of commissioners (four of five) would need to agree to rezone it for spring training. And a new complex wouldn’t be done by 2018 — thus not meeting the Braves’ deadline to move from Disney World’s Champion Stadium.

While it sounds like there’s a solid core of passionate fans and investors who want to bring in spring training, the business community is far from united behind the plan. From the Naples Daily News:

One commissioner already has expressed opposition, while another raised concerns about putting it so close to so many homes. Beyond those concerns, larger questions loom about whether there is the political will or community desire to have a stadium.

“You want to give credit to Gary Price for raising these ideas. I’m just a bit skeptical about whether they will have any footing. There should be some criteria for vetting these ideas,” said Michael Reagen, a former president and CEO of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce.

Commission Tim Nance, who generally supports a spring complex, was a little ambivalent:

Nance said he’s not even sure a stadium is something the community wants.

“That’s one thing we got to ask right up front, will people support it?” he said. “We have a lot of people from the Midwest and Northeast who love baseball. I think we have to take a look at it.”

Collier County is one of three Florida counties expressing interest in hosting the Braves, as the team looks to move out of Champion Stadium after spring training in 2017. It’s widely regarded that the team’s first choice is a Palm Beach County site, and talks continue about site and funding plans there. Sarasota County has also pitched the Braves on a new spring-training complex in the southern part of the county.

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